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Care home residents isolated because of Covid, suffer during heatwave

Updated: May 10, 2023

Most of us enjoy the warm summer weather but then the recent heat wave and temperatures of 40 degrees, well that’s something different. Spare a thought then for those residents living in care homes isolated in their bedrooms because they have contacted Covid.


It has reported that some families with relatives in care homes have been left feeling frustrated and angry after their loved ones were forced to isolate in their rooms during the heatwave due to Covid.


Soaring temperatures across parts of England and Wales prompted the Met Office to issue an amber weather alert and warnings that exceptionally high temperatures could pose risk of serious illness or danger to life.


Response of care homes


Some care homes across the country implemented measures to help keep their vulnerable residents cool. But elsewhere, relatives were concerned about restrictions that mean their Covid-negative relatives could not leave their rooms.


Some families were critical of the strict response from health authorities in York to positive Covid cases at a time when restrictions have been lifted elsewhere.


A Rights for Residents campaigner and former care worker, whose 86-year-old father and 78-year-old mother are both in the same care home, said: “No resident is allowed out of their room, positive or negative, local health authority rules. So, residents are being told to eat, drink, sleep, and watch TV, 24 hours a day in their room. It’s 31°C, and their windows only open an inch, to stop them escaping.”


CQC Guidance on visits


The Care Quality Commission states that visits to care homes should be unrestricted unless there is a Covid outbreak in a home, in which event each resident should be able to have one visitor at a time.


Differing interpretation of Covid Guidance


Director of charity The Relatives & Residents Association, Helen Wildbore, said many care homes are still implementing lockdowns in line with a “really strict” definition of an outbreak that could mean as little two cases in two weeks.


Ms Wildbore said: “Even before this heatwave kicked in, we were supporting a family who were already concerned months ago about how hot their relative’s room was in their care home and they were told to provide their own fans or air conditioning.”


She added that some residents on ground floors did not even have rooms with windows, but patio doors which remained locked due to health and safety concerns, meaning they had no access to fresh air during lockdowns.


“You can imagine if you’ve got the curtains drawn, you’re not even able to look out of the window, what’s that going to be like for days on end?” Ms Wildbore said.


“It’s going to be really concerning in terms of their health. Not just their mental health if curtains are closed and they’re just stuck in their room and there’s no stimulation, their cognitive abilities can decline,” she added. “This is also really concerning in terms of physical health too.“If you’re an older person and you have varying health conditions, the heat is not just an annoyance, it could be life-threatening.”


Keeping residents cool


Sue Cawthray, CEO of Harrogate Neighbours, which operates two care sites with a total of 89 residents, said the organisation had introduced hydrating stations, adapted meals, bought cooling pads and air con units for communal areas and provided residents with ice creams and ice lollies.


Ms Cawthray said it’s “very challenging” to keep residents cool and hydrated during the hot weather but emphasised the importance of hands-on staff.


“It’s about the staff sitting down with the resident and drinking together as well. We find that works,” she said.


The care home she runs is not currently in the midst of a Covid outbreak, but she said while positive residents would be isolated, it would not necessarily lead to a blanket lockdown.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Outbreak measures are in place to protect the most vulnerable in care settings and have been a longstanding clinical response to any infectious illness, not just Covid.


“We are clear that every resident can also continue to receive one visitor inside the care home in all circumstances – even in an outbreak or isolation – because we know the positive difference care home visits make for residents and their families.”


Summary


One can understand the dilemma faced by managers of care homes trying to cope with the demands of Covid and meeting residents needs during a heatwave. But according to residents’ rights campaigners, some care homes are still restricting visits.


The CQC Guidance is clear and should be followed by care home managers. This is not just a question of compliance to guidance and best practice, but the impact of restricted visiting on residents’ mental health and quality of life.


Albert Cook BA, MA & Fellow Charted Quality Institute Managing Director Bettal Quality Consultancy

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